NFL News & Analysis

QB Zach Wilson is collapsing under pressure, and the New York Jets need more

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) passes the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

• Playing well from a clean pocket: Zach Wilson has earned an 84.5 PFF grade on his dropbacks without pressure this year, eighth in the NFL and just one place behind MVP front-runner Josh Allen.

• Problems when the pressure comes: That grade nose dives to just 22.0 on pressured dropbacks — the worst mark among passers over the last four years.

• Making things worse: Wilson has a passer rating of 9.8 on plays where he's forced to abandon the pocket. The Jets would actually be significantly better off if he just threw the ball away every time he started scrambling.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


The 2021 quarterback class has come under immense scrutiny of late, and perhaps no sophomore passer has been criticized more than the New York JetsZach Wilson.

The BYU product has also joined the list of quarterbacks who have been outplayed by their backups this season, even though the bar has not been set particularly high: Veteran Joe Flacco earned a PFF grade of 55.0 in his three starts while Wilson was out through injury — 35th out of 38 qualifying quarterbacks — yet Wilson's 53.7 grade currently ranks 36th.

So what exactly is wrong with the face of the Jets franchise?

Let’s start with the good news: he has played well from a clean pocket this season. And performance from a clean pocket is one of the most stable and predictive data sets when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks.

Wilson has earned an 84.5 passing grade on his dropbacks without pressure this year, eighth in the NFL and just one place behind MVP front-runner and Week 9 opponent Josh Allen. His 9.6 yards per attempt on these plays ranks first among all quarterbacks.

Similarly, on plays when Wilson gets rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or faster, he ranks 14th in the NFL in PFF grade (74.5). Admittedly, his 4.3-yard average depth of target is the league's sixth-shortest on these plays, but he is definitely not hurting his team in these situations.

Zach Wilson: Clean-pocket Passing statistics (rank among 32 QBs with 100 or more dropbacks)
Stat Rank
PFF passing grade 84.5 8th
Adjsuted Comp. % 82.2% 5th
Yards per attempt 9.6 1st
Big-time throw rate 1.1% 28th
Turnover-worthy play rate 1.0% 2nd
Passer rating 109.4 5th

The issues arise when things do not go well and when the situation is not so clear-cut.

Yes, performance under pressure is volatile and can change from season to season or even from game to game, but it is still concerning that Wilson has earned a PFF grade of just 22.0 on pressured dropbacks in 2022. And this grade is not only last among players at the position, but it also ranks dead last among 188 qualifying quarterbacks over the last four seasons.

The Jets quarterback has a passer rating of just 6.8 on pressured dropbacks this year, which is ahead of only Jake Luton’s 2020 figure over the last four years. Remember, throwing the ball away on every single play results in a passer rating of 39.6.

The biggest cause for worry is comparing today’s Zach Wilson with the Zach Wilson we saw in college at BYU.

Wilson: Performance under pressure (BYU 2020 vs. NYJ 2021-22)
BYU
2020
NYJ
2021-22
74.1 PFF passing grade 25.3
61.5% Adjusted Comp. % 42.6%
8.6 Yards per attempt 4.4
12.9% Big-time throw rate 4.9%
0.0% Turnover-worthy play rate 7.4%
98.5 Passer rating 12.6

Arguably his best strength coming out of college was his ability to create out of structure: On plays when he held on to the ball for more than 3.0 seconds in 2020, Wilson put up a 93.8 grade that led the nation. His mark of 80.9 on plays where he had to move off his spot ranked third.

I don't want to say that the draft comparisons to Patrick Mahomes were justifiable, but based on his college numbers, they were understandable. And this was probably the biggest reason why he was one of the most highly coveted quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft, as teams these days are looking for signal-callers who can create out of structure when the play breaks down.

What have we seen from Wilson in this area in the NFL this season? On plays when he's held on to the ball for more than 3.0 seconds, he ranks dead last in the NFL in PFF grade (25.7), significantly behind anyone else. His 24.4 passer rating on these plays ranks 35th out of 36 qualifying QBs.

On plays when he's had to move off his spot, he has earned a PFF grade of 25.2, which is also last in the NFL. His passer rating of 9.8 on these plays is not just worse than the passer rating earned on an incompletion (39.6), but the Jets would actually be significantly better off if Wilson just threw the ball away every time he started scrambling.

The New York Jets and Zach Wilson might now be at crossroads. Either they keep trying to bring the BYU Zach Wilson to the surface and chalk these struggles up to growing pains, or they accept that Wilson’s limitations do not allow him to play the same way he did when he dominated college football and try to tweak his playstyle going forward.

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.
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